Yes, David Backes of the Boston Bruins has had three fights in his past four games. And yes, that coincided with him speaking to Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy about his role on the team. But Backes also wants to make it clear he has no desire or intention to become an enforcer, now or anytime soon.
Backes reached out to TheHockeyNews.com after it had been widely reported, both by us and other news outlets, that he had essentially volunteered to become the Bruins’ enforcer. In reality, the last thing Backes needs at this point in his career is to have a target on his back for every enforcer or would-be enforcer to earn his chops. He wanted to clarify that at no time did he ever offer to become a one-dimensional fighter or enforcer when he spoke with Cassidy.
“I never said I wanted to be an enforcer,” Backes said. “And I think by having published articles in the minds of Joe Schmoe player, they think there’s an automatic fight with David Backes because he’s an enforcer and he’s willing to take on any takers. I’d like it clarified for my safety that I’m not saying, ‘I’m going to be the toughest guy in the NHL.’ I’m not looking for the NHL heavyweight championship belt. I’m a realist that, while I’m willing to do it, I’m not the best even in the middleweight class. I’m willing and I survive, but I’m not pounding anybody.”
Backes said in his conversation with Cassidy, he told the coach that simply wanted a bigger role on the team, to make more of an impact in games than he had been recently. And that covered the entire spectrum of play, including being a physical presence. “I said, ‘If the other team’s got a guy that’s playing in the top six like a Micheal Ferland who’s running around and you need some meat on there, I feel like I’m being looked over for some reason rather than giving me the opportunity to settle him down while being used in a top-six role,’ ” Backes said. “That was more the premise of my comment. And (Cassidy) said, ‘With your history, I didn’t know if that was something you were still interested in.’ It’s always been a part of my game. I think if that’s not part of my game, I lose some of my effectiveness.”
Backes has had three fights – his only three of this season – in his past four games. He said two of those fights were not the result of his conversation with Cassidy and likely would have transpired anyway. His first fight, against Michael Haley of the San Jose Sharks, “I had played against that line the whole game and when it’s 4-1, he decided at that time that he needed his ounce of blood and I was the guy lined up against him.” His fight in the next game against Adam Erne of the Tampa Bay Lightning was the result of a crosscheck in front of the net. Pretty garden variety stuff by NHL standards. The fight against Ferland of the Carolina Hurricanes was one that did materialize because of his chat with Cassidy. Ferland had just landed a clean check on Marcus Johansson that injured the latter.
“Bruce puts me out on the draw on the next faceoff and (Ferland) is out on the draw,” Backes said. “And I said, ‘This is a guy who has challenged me in the past and I have an opportunity to do what I said I wanted to do and I ended up fighting Micheal Ferland. Putting me out on the draw against Micheal Ferland was the one thing that (Cassidy) he did differently from that conversation.”
It’s troubling that Backes or anyone would be compelled to fight an opponent as the result of a clean hit, but that’s not on Backes. That’s more on the culture of the game. There is a culture of revenge in hockey like there is in no other sport and it seems no slight, or even clean, hard hit, can go unpunished. And to be sure, Backes has been on the receiving end of some of those fights during his career as well.
When I wrote the blog about Backes on Wednesday, I did not do so to belittle, criticize or admonish him. It was written out of genuine concern for a player for whom I have a ton of respect and one with whom I have developed a professional relationship over the years. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who is relieved to know that Backes won’t be out there looking for fights. With his recent history of concussions, that would not be a good idea. Someone who has given as much to the game as Backes shouldn’t have to play out his career as a dancing bear. He’s clearly concerned about this, so all you players out there who live by this nebulous “code of honor” by which you profess to conduct yourselves, please take note. It is not open season on David Backes.
“I’d love to play 18 minutes a game and score 20 goals a year,” Backes said. “Is that a likely possibility with the Boston Bruins, with the league trending the way it is, with me getting older? I don’t know if that’s the case. Three fights a year has pretty much been my average and maybe they were all clumped together. I’m not a fighter or an enforcer and I don’t know that I want that connotation.”